Friday, December 21, 2007

Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie

In October, Cyn and I spoke at Star Lit, a fund-raiser for the Dallas Bethlehem Center. The festival housed us at the Adolphus Hotel and gave us goodie bags filled with various Dallas-themed items. One was a sample (about six inches in diameter!) of the Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip cookie, which included a card with the recipe.

This week, we were invited to a Christmas caroling party so I decided to try it out. They're amazing. Slightly soft and chewy, but not too soft or too chewy.

Try them yourselves:


  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons instant espresso coffee powder
  • 1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

  • Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cream the butter with the sugars using an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy (approximately 30 seconds)

    2. Beat in the egg and the vanilla extract for another 30 seconds.

    3. In a mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients and beat into the butter mixture at low speed for about 15 seconds. Stir in the espresso coffee powder and chocolate chips.

    4. Using a 1 ounce scoop or a 2 tablespoon measure, drop cookie dough onto a greased cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Gently press down on the dough with the back of a spoon to spread out into a 2 inch circle. Bake for about 20 minutes or until nicely browned around the edges. Bake a little longer for a crispier cookie.

    Yield: 2 dozen cookies

    Oh, and you've probably heard the urban legend. Here's all Neiman Marcus has to say on the matter:

    An urban myth is a modern folk tale, its origins unknown, its believability enhanced simply by the frequency with which it is repeated. Our signature chocolate chip cookie is the subject of one such myth. If you haven't heard the story, we won't perpetuate it here. If you have, the recipe below should serve to refute it. Copy it, print it out, pass it along to friends and family. It's a terrific recipe. And it's absolutely free.

    If you want the story of the myth, go here. (Interestingly, I first heard it in the context of Fannie May fudge).

    Merry Christmas!

    Sunday, December 16, 2007


    SKIN HUNGER: A Resurrection of Magic, Book 1, by Kathleen Duey (Atheneum, 2007)(ages 12 and up). Once, true magic existed, but long ago magicians were hunted down and killed by jealous kings. Now, with magic outlawed, there are only charlatans and frauds wearing black robes and taking advantage of the credulous or desperate. One such fraud, called in to aid Sadima's mother with her birthing, steals the family's few valuables, and leaves Sadima dying and her mother dead.

    Sadima survives and discovers she has an ability to communicate with animals. At seventeen, she leaves home to seek out two young men who are determined to resurrect magic so that it can once more be used to help mankind. She's drawn to Franklin, but can't understand what binds him to Somiss, whose obsession with restoring magic does little, in her mind, to excuse barely restrained anger and cruelty.

    Years later, magic has been restored and is taught at a mysterious Academy, where fewer than one in ten succeeds to become a magician, and where boys are left by their parents for fates unknown: to either become magicians or disappear forever. Hahp, second son of a wealthy merchant, is sent there because his father decided to get rid of him. Garrard, a peasant boy, is assigned as his roommate. The only thing that binds them is the consequences of failure and their fear of working together, which has been proscribed. And the latter may be their only chance to avoid the former...

    Told in chapters that alternate between Sadima's story and Hahp's, SKIN HUNGER is a darkly engrossing read. Duey skillfully uses Sadima's story to illuminate Hahp's, creating characters that are expertly drawn and a fantasy world that is textured and real. Highly recommended.

    Click here for an excerpt and here for an interview with Kathleen Duey.

    Sunday, December 09, 2007


    WONDERS OF THE WORLD, by Brian Yansky, (Flux, 2007). Eric's father introduced him to the "wonders of the world"-- stories of (mostly) made-up adventure and world travel. But when Eric was twelve, his father left, never to return. His mother remarried, and they moved to Omaha.

    At seventeen, Eric runs away, to escape his mother's new life and maybe find his father. Now, Eric is living on the streets of Riverton, a cesspool of gangs, junkies, murder, and sex for hire. He manages to eke out a miserable existence panhandling, along with a handful of other street kids. But then he and his ex-girlfriend attract the attention of Bluebeard, the thuggish and vicious crime boss who runs much of the vice in Riverton. Desperate to find a way out, Eric just may have a chance if only he can escape the evil Bluebeard.

    Told with sardonic humor, WONDERS OF THE WORLD is quirky, gritty, and riveting, with a great voice and terrific story. Sometimes grim, sometimes hopeful, WONDERS OF THE WORLD is an amazing, compelling read. Highly recommended.

    See an interview with Brian Yansky at Cynsations.

    Tuesday, December 04, 2007


    THE MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE, by J.B. Cheaney, Knopf Books for Young Readers (2007). Twelve year-old Veronica Sparks is on a road trip across Kansas with her grandfather (a wind prospector) and hyperactive younger brother. Her attempts to take control of her own life are thwarted by her brother's impulsiveness and her grandfather's threats to take them all back home. And then her brother disappears...Warm, funny, richly drawn, and satisfying. And, hey, there's a human cannonball!

    Sunday, December 02, 2007


    WHEN FISH GOT FEET, SHARKS GOT TEETH, AND BUGS BEGAN TO SWARM: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Long before Dinosaurs, written and illustrated by Hannah Bonner, National Geographic (2007). Ever wonder what the world was like before the dinosaurs? In this lively picture book, author/illustrator Bonner tells of the Earth during the Silurian and Devonian periods of the Paleozoic Era, from about 430 million years ago to about 350 million years ago.

    Filled with fun facts about the evolution of fish, the development of forests, and how animals got feet. A quirky and engaging introduction to the development of life on land.


    WHALE PORT, by Mark Foster, Ill. by Gerald Foster, Houghton Mifflin/Walter Lorraine Books (2007). Ages 10+. In this 64-page picture book, the father and son Fosters explore the history of New England whaling through the fictional town of Tuckanucket, from the earliest European settlers through modern regentrification. The book is structured to include an overarching narrative, with breakouts explaining each picture in greater depth. The drawings themselves are incredibly detailed, including many cutaways and perspectives. A fascinating look at a now-defunct era in the history of America and technology.

    Monday, November 26, 2007

    They either read my blog or...

    I have unfairly maligned them. Who? Abercrombie and Fitch. Passionate readers of this blog (if any exist) will recall that back in 2005, I posted on "trusting your audience," using A&F as an example of a store from up north that, unfathomably, tries to sell wool and sweatshirts here in central Texas in September (when the average temp. is still in the mid-90s).


    A couple months ago, Cyn and I went to the mall (sadly, yes) to do some clothes shopping. I needed a pair of khaki trousers and was having a hard time finding any that fit (The customer base seems to be several inches shorter than I).

    Finally, in desperation, after visiting four stores, I decided to go into A&F. Now, I have never actually owned an article of clothing from A&F and it's been a number of years since I have been in the place (and never at this particular mall) and so was completely astonished. No, not at the fact that the store has the look-and-feel of a just-out-of-college pick-up joint where they also happen to sell clothes, but at the fact that the ONLY long pants they had were jeans, and these were outnumbered by about twenty to one with shorts.

    Shorts. In late September in Texas. Imagine that.

    Sunday, November 25, 2007

    It's that time of year...

    Can you believe Christmas is only a month away?

    Cyn and I are recovering from an intense fall of out-of-town events and speaking engagements. These have included Wrangling with Writing, Star Lit, Kansas Book Festival, National Book Festival, Texas Book Festival, Sam Houston State University Children's and YA Literature Festival , and the Native American Heritage Festival in Norman. Oh, and Cynthia finished up a revision of her novel Eternal.

    We had a quiet Thanksgiving at home. Breakfast was hearts of palm with salmon sashimi with deviled eggs. A light mid-afternoon snack involved cheese and smoked salmon. Dinner was a roast turkey with giblet-bread stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet corn, and cranberry sauce.

    Our last event is a signing of Santa Knows at the Barnes and Noble Westlake at 1 PM on December 2. See you there!

    Monday, November 05, 2007

    SHSU and Texas Book Festivals

    This weekend was a whirlwind of books and authors and festivals. On Friday, Cyn and I drove up to Huntsville for the Sam Houston State University Children's Book Festival. We had dinner in The Woodlands (where we also stayed) at Macaroni Grill with the conference organizers, workshop leaders, and the other keynoters, Joan Bauer and Mo Willems.

    We were up at 6:30 the next morning for breakfast and the drive to Huntsville (where they have a 70 foot tall statue of Sam Houston). After a quick set up, Cyn gave her morning keynote speech on gothic fantasy and Tantalize. Joan Bauer followed with a moving discussion of Story and her trip to Kazakhstan.

    We then retired for lunch and book sales and signing, while the workshops were going on. After lunch were more workshops and then I delivered my keynote, followed by Mo's speech, which included a discussion on the entirety of the picture book as a work of art (He also showed how to draw Pigeon).

    After more book sales and signings, we packed Mo into the car and high-tailed it back to Austin for the Texas Book Festival. After only one wrong turn, Cyn arrived in the nick of time for the "Not for Required Reading" panel at Alamo Drafthouse. Other panelists included Austinites April Lurie and Brian Yansky; and Sherman Alexie, Adrienne Kress, Perry Moore, Neal Shusterman, and Jacques Couvillon.

    The theatre was sold out and the crowd was enthusiastic. Attendees included authors Linda Sue Park, Mark Mitchell, Frances Hill, Kimberly Willis Holt, and Gail Carson Levine. Several of us (Linda Sue Park, Neal Shusterman, Varian Johnson, Lindsey Lane, Brian Yansky, April Lurie) then went for a late night dinner at Magnolia Cafe.

    The next day, Cyn was on a panel titled Tough Girls, with April Lurie and Adrienne Kress
    and moderated by Julie Lake. The conference room was overflowing and the crowd was treated to insights into the authors' creative processes and behind-the-scenes looks at their books.

    By this time we were completely exhausted, but later in the evening, we briefly stopped by a party hosted by Cyndi Hughes at Nuevo Leon.

    Many thanks to everyone involved in organizing both festivals! We had a terrific time and your work is greatly appreciated.

    Monday, October 22, 2007

    Star Lit

    This weekend we spent in Georgetown and Plano. Friday, Cyn spoke at the Annual Meeting of TLA District III. The audience was receptive and enthusiastic, and we got the chance to tour the new Georgetown Public Library. Very impressive facility.

    After that, we drove up to Dallas for the Star Lit Festival, a fund-raiser for the Dallas Bethlehem Center. We stayed arrived in late afternoon at the Hotel Adolphus and spent the evening at a welcome reception at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

    Next day got up early to attend the "Breakfst with the Authors" event, then spoke to two packed sessions at the St. Andrew's Methodist Church in Plano. Other authors/illustrators/advocates in attendance included Kimberly Willis Holt, Will Hillenbrand, Laura Numeroff, Dee Scallon and Daniel Myers, Bryan Collier, Kim Brown, and Tracy Dockray. It's a terrific event - highly recommended, especially for families with children.

    Many thanks to the folks at Star Lit, especially our escort par excellence, Hope, and Star Lit chair Jeff Morton.

    Tuesday, October 09, 2007

    The World in 1908

    The last time the Cubs won a World Series:

    Mark Twain was still alive.
    Leo Tolstoy was still alive.
    Geronimo was still alive.
    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were still alive.

    Edward Teller was born in January.
    Rex Harrison was born in March.
    Lyndon Johnson was born in August.
    Simon Wiesenthal was born in December.

    Theodore Roosevelt was president of the United States.
    Nicholas II was Czar of Russia.
    Wilhelm II was Kaiser of Germany.
    Edward VII was King of Britain and Emperor of India.

    It was the first year of production for the Model T.
    The following year, Bleriot would be the first to fly a heavier-than-air aircraft across the English Channel.
    In three years, IBM would be founded as the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation and the New York Public Library would be dedicated.
    In four years, RMS Titanic had its maiden voyage.
    In six years, Wrigley Field opened.

    Wait 'til next year.

    Sunday, October 07, 2007

    Kansas Book Festival

    Cyn and I are just back from Wichita, where we spoke at the second annual Kansas Book Festival. We arrived on Friday afternoon, and stayed at the Hotel at Old Town, a restored turn-of-the-century warehouse (highly recommended!). That evening, we had the pleasure of dining at Larkspur (also highly recommended!) with Kimberly Willis Holt and Pulpwood Queen Kathy Patrick (who, alas, was not wearing her tiara).

    Saturday we gave a reading of Santa Knows to a group of brownies and then spoke on a panel called "All in the Family," about our writing for older audiences. We weren't able to attend a lot of the talks, but we caught part of Richard Uhlig and J.B. Cheaney's talks. Other author sightings included Roderick Townley and Lois Ruby. Later that afternoon, Cyn spoke on a panel moderated by Cyndi Hughes called "Kansas on the Literary Map."

    Our book signings were hosted by the lovely, vibrant, and entertaining proprietors of Emporia's own Town Crier Bookstore. We also had the chance to speak again with the scintillating folks from the Kansas Center for the Book (see photo above).

    Many thanks to all for organizing a terrific event. May it be merely the second of many!

    Sunday, September 30, 2007

    NBF, part III

    Friday night was the reception at the Botanic Garden. Most of the guests there were from various states' Centers for the Book. I got the chance to speak with John Cole, greeter and Master of Ceremonies (and director of the Center for the Book); and various folks from the Wisconsin Center for the Book, the Kansas Center for the Book; the Texas Center for the Book; and the Michigan Center for the Book.

    The setting was gorgeous - if you've never been there, make time to go on your next trip to Washington. (They did turn the sprinklers/misters on us at the beginning of the evening, but it was kind of refreshing. And they turned them off before it got too tropical. :-)). A very fun evening that was over too quickly.

    Afterwards (and after Cyn returned from the gala), we had a late night snack and drink at the Bistro with Holly Black, M.T. Anderson, and Jennifer Holm. (Jenifer and Holly, below)

    Next morning we were up early for breakfast and opening ceremonies at the White House. The breakfast buffet in the State Dining Room included yogurt-fruit parfaits, mini-muffins, eggs benedict, mini-pancakes, and an assortment of breakfast pastries.

    Opening ceremonies were in the East Room and featured speeches by Laura Bush, Michael Beschloss and Patricia MacLachlan (as well as Ruth Riley from the WNBA and Al Harrington from the NBA).

    From there, we shuttled to the Author tent at the Mall, where we met Cynthia's escort, a charming gentleman who has been with the Library of Congress for over twenty years. We didn't get to hear a lot of the speakers, but we did go to Gail Carson Levine and M.T. Anderson's presentations.

    Cyn's speech was a great success and we ended up arriving about thirty minutes early to her signing -- there were already about twenty people lined the (by then) hot, dusty afternoon.

    One of the highlights of the signing was seeing Amy Lin, my former editor and her husband and new baby. Thanks for coming!

    Thanks to Laura Bush and the Library of Congress, including John Cole and the Librarian of Congress, James Billington, for a great event!

    More pictures, thoughts, tomorrow. (Maybe).

    Friday, September 28, 2007

    NBF, part II

    Well, yesterday the International Spy Museum was a blast: you go in through this great stainless-steel elevator with glowing "security lights" and have to pick a persona, which you're grilled on a couple times before you leave. (I, apparently, am a suspicious personage). Exhibits include bugs, gadgets, weapons, and spies in film. The World War II and Cold War exhibits are particularly good.

    Afterwards, we had lunch in the Zola Restaurant inside the museum. The tuna tartare and chopped salad were excellent - definitely not run of the mill museum food.

    This morning, while Cyn worked on her speech, I went for a run down the Mall (from the hotel to the Capitol and then down to the WWII Memorial). Very picturesque - but it's sort of hard to get a good run in when you're rubbernecking. :-).

    They're putting finishing touches on the book festival pavilions. This time, it's between the Castle and the Natural History Museum, instead of right up on the Capitol grounds like it was in 2002 (the last time Cyn spoke).

    Tonight, Cyn is off to the gala at the Library of Congress, while I'll be at the alternate event at the Botanical Garden.

    Thursday, September 27, 2007

    Washington, D.C.

    We arrived in D.C. yesterday for the National Book Festival. The Festival itself is not 'til Saturday, but we decided to come early and take in some sights.

    We're staying at the Hotel George, this very modern and fun hotel a few minutes away from Capitol Hill. We flew into Dulles and were met by the driver Cyn's publisher provided (very convenient! Thanks, guys.). First view of D.C. was the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

    Our room wasn't ready, so we had lunch at Bistro Bis, the hotel restaurant. Very good artichoke soup and salad nicoise. Afterwards, we headed over to the National Museum of Natural History.
    Very impressive elephant in the rotunda and the new mammal exhibit is amazing - very bright, multimedia, and the animals are in natural poses. The dinosaur exhibit was also impressive. They have a diplodocus, a T.rex, a triceratops, an albertosaur, and a stegosaur.

    The hotel concierge recommended Acadiana for dinner. (Sort of high-end cajun - very rich and very good.). After eating our fill of the turtle soup, deviled eggs, and redfish, we walked back to the hotel and crashed.

    Today, the plan is to check out the International Spy Museum. We'll let you know if we see any mice.

    Friday, September 14, 2007

    Busy summer...

    Okay, so I haven't blogged at all this summer. Things have been busy...and speaking season is now upon us.

    Various random news:

    Cyn is now at the Wrangling with Writing conference in Tucson (which is why the lads are huddled together on the guest bed).

    My former editor at Little Brown, Amy Hsu (now Lin) is operating a manuscript critique service. Check out her web site at Editomato.

    At the end of the month, we'll be in Washington, D.C. for the National Book Festival, where Cyn will be presenting Tantalize. One of the highlights is the breakfast/opening ceremonies at the White House. (Incidentally, the return address on the invitation is simply "The White House, Washington, D.C. 20501").

    In October, Cyn and I will both be speaking at the Kansas Book Festival. Also in October, we'll be at the Star Lit Festival in Dallas.

    In November Cyn will be presenting at the Texas Book Festival and we'll both be speaking at the Sam Houston State University Children's Book Festival and Young Adult Conference in Huntsville. Other speakers include Joan Bauer and Mo Willems.

    And tomorrow (Saturday, Sept. 15), Brian Yansky will be signing his newest book, Wonders of the World, at the Round Rock B&N from 2 PM to 4 PM. WW is a WriteFest novel and so Cyn and I had the pleasure of reading it in manuscript form. If the finished novel is half as good as the manuscript, it's definitely a must-read.

    Wednesday, June 27, 2007

    Back in town!

    Cyn and I just got back in town after our working vacation. I managed to get a bunch of pictures and notes that'll be useful in the draft of my WIP. I'll post some pics later.

    Random notes:

    Cynsations is on hiatus until August.

    NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO was mentioned in the June 10 Los Angeles Times in an article titled "How to Hook the Reluctant Boy Reader." Thanks to David Lubar for letting me know!

    Cyn is interviewed at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

    The tentative lineup for this year's National Book Festival has been announced. Cynthia's Tantalize is one of the featured novels for YA/children. (I understand there was a mention/write-up of Cyn in last weekend's Austin American-Statesman).

    And we returned to Austin to widespread flooding in the Hill Country. Fortunately, thus far, most of the rain has missed Austin. But the drought is definitely over...

    Thursday, June 14, 2007

    Light blogging...

    Hmmm. I hadn't realized it's been two months since I blogged. Much has been going on: Speaking, writing, reading...and the most important of these is WRITING!

    I have a draft of a new novel (the first of a planned trilogy)...and I've been trying something new. In order to encapsulate the story arc, I created a table in WORD and, for every column, put in a description of the corresponding chapter. This allowed me to quickly see how the story arc was (or was not) developing. It's also useful now that I'm revising it, since I can enter changes and shift scenes from chapter to chapter quite easily.

    This weekend, Cyn and I are on a panel at the Writers' League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference. And next week, we're going on a real, actual not work-related vacation for the first time in years!

    What with both of us writing and the day job, we realized recently that we need to take more time off. So this summer, in addition to vacation, we're going to try (hold your breath) not working on weekends. I know that the vast majority of the country takes weekends off, but for Cyn and me it's a new concept.

    One of the things we're going to try to do is more weekend trips, like Shakespeare at Winedale, which we haven't been to in a number of years...

    Sunday, April 15, 2007

    Suitcase? There's no suitcase here...

    Above are Sebastian (l) and Blizzard (r) as they try to hide our suitcase...and thereby prevent us from leaving again...(or maybe they're trying to hide in our suitcase, and are thwarted by the zipper and the lack of opposable thumbs)

    We just returned from the annual conference of the Texas Library Association. Cyn spoke Thursday on a panel with Tim Wynne-Jones and Margaret Peterson Haddix on a panel called "Magic in the Middle," sponsored by the Young Adult Round Table (YART) (Gary Schmidt was also scheduled to come, but was snowed in in Grand Rapids). In a lively discussion, the three handled questions from the moderator and then a Q&A with the audience. Topics ranged from covers to sources of inspiration to reader interaction.

    After the session, Cynthia signed Tantalize (now in its fifth printing!) at the Candlewick booth. Sharon and Rona were, as ever, supremely gracious and unflappable.

    Writer sightings Thursday included Debbie Leland, Jerry Wermund, Gene Brenek, Joy Hein, Anne Bustard, Brian Anderson, Chris Barton, Patricia McMahon, Grace Lin, and Kathleen Duey. That evening, Cyn had dinner with the YART people, and I had dinner at the Westin Riverwalk with Anne Bustard, Gene Brenek, Chris Barton, Brian Anderson, Helen Hemphill, and Joy, and editor from Front Street Books. After dinner, we had a drink in the Westin bar and ran into a great bunch of Austin librarians, as well as John Green, E. Lockhart, Scott Westerfield, and Justine Larbalestier. Alas, Cecil Castelluci couldn't make it, as she came down with something on the plane. We also got a chance to talk with Jill, formerly of Book People, and now a rep for Penguin.

    Friday morning was my signing at the Little Brown booth. It went terrifically, thanks to the energetic and lovely Victoria!

    Friday writer sightings on the floor included the Houston SCBWI gang and the Texas SCBWI booth people, including Julie Lake, Marianne Dyson, Carmen Bredeson, Mary Wade, Don Tate, and Lila Guzman. That evening was the publishers' joint party on the 22d floor of the Hilton Palacio. Authors there (whom I actually spoke to) included Avi, Sarah Weeks, Eileen Spinelli, Esme Codell, Dianna Aston, Mark Mitchell, Brian Anderson, Anne Bustard, Peni Griffin, Kathleen Duey, Tim Wynne-Jones, Mitali Perkins, and a host of others.

    Thanks to all the librarians for a great conference and enthusiasm about books and reading! Thanks also to Candlewick for sponsoring Cyn and to all the publishers at the joint party!

    Monday, March 19, 2007


    Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds, by April Lurie (Delacorte, June 12, 2007)(ages 10-14) is a terrific sophomore novel by the author of Dancing in the Streets of Brooklyn: April Lundquist lives in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, a quiet neighborhood where the streets are clean and safe. Sure, three murderers live on her block, but they're just mafia hit men. Problems start when April's older brother begins to date the daughter of a mobster and when one of the neighbors has a business proposition...

    In this novel set in the late 1970s, author April Lurie evokes the classic feeling of the decade of disco in a humorous and touching story based in part on her own teen years. Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds is a fun and affecting tale of family and friendship and (like Dancing in the Streets of Brooklyn) would likely appeal particularly to fans of Jennifer Holm's Penny from Heaven.

    Friday, March 16, 2007

    Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo in Japan

    So yesterday I received my author's copies of the Japanese edition of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo, published by Poplar Sha. I love the look Shohei's giving Elias. :-). Thanks to translators Noriko and Koshi Odashima!

    Thursday, March 15, 2007

    The Muffin Joke - Is it funny?

    So there are these two muffins baking in an oven.

    One of them yells, “Wow, it’s hot in here!”

    And the other muffin replies: “Holy sh*t! A talking muffin!”

    I think it's pretty darn hilarious.

    Tuesday's New York Times, however, has an article discussing laughter and the muffin joke, which the author, a Mr. John Tierney, rather haughtily disparages as NOT funny and states that "most laughter has little to do with humor," but is merely a social lubricant.

    Occasionally we’re surprised into laughing at something funny, but most laughter has little to do with humor. It’s an instinctual survival tool for social animals, not an intellectual response to wit. It’s not about getting the joke. It’s about getting along.

    Thus, the article contends that the only reason anyone could laugh at or find the muffin joke to be funny is for purposes of "getting along" and that laughter arises or is particularly useful in social situations involving a disparate power dynamic, i.e., it occurs more typically in a situation in which social inferiors are responding to social superiors, rather than between colleagues.

    As evidence of the assertion that laughter is just a social lubricant, and not a response to humor, the article states that when the speaker ("a lowly graduate student") was telling the muffin joke to his undergraduate class, the response was laughter, but when talking to a conference of (more prominent) neuroscientists, he got nothing.

    Well, okay. But has anyone, in the entire history of the human race, ever said, "Oh boy! A conference of neuroscientists! That'll be a barrel of laughs!"

    Saturday, March 10, 2007

    Good news, launches, and congrats!

    Austin author Varian Johnson just celebrated his 30th birthday and was recently accepted into the Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Read his full post and send him congrats!

    Author David Lubar (not a Texan, but we don't hold it against him) had a book launch this week: True Talents, the sequel to Hidden Talents. Go here for my December review.

    Author Tracie Vaughn Zimmer (likewise not a Texan) also had a book release this week: Check out Reaching for the Sun, which is already garnering terrific reviews!

    Tuesday, March 06, 2007

    Tantalize a Border's Original Voices Pick!

    Cynthia's new novel, Tantalize, has been named a Border's Original Voices Pick for March 2007. Go check out the other picks!

    Also, Candlewick Press and Young Adult Books Central are sponsoring a giveaway contest for March - enter and win one of twenty copies of Tantalize!

    Sunday, March 04, 2007

    Speaking of dirty words...

    (This is a great segue if you've read my last post).

    By now, everyone is familiar with this tempest in a teapot.

    It got me thinking. My WIP is my first novel set in Texas (“It’s about time,” said a librarian at Cyn’s Tantalize launch party) – actually, on a cattle ranch – and it’s about a girl who must decide who and what she is, based on where she thinks she’s from, where she thought she was from, and where she’s actually from. It’s hilarious. Really.

    Anyway. One of the things that goes on on a cattle ranch in the spring is an activity with the relatively innocuous-sounding title of "roundup." During roundup, the young bull calves are, well, rounded up, thrown to the ground, branded, and castrated.


    Two words:

    Calf fries.

    Saturday, March 03, 2007

    How Bleak Thou Art

    Okay, so there’s this generalized assumption that young adult literature is bleak, grim, and seriously unfunny. Now, as an author of funny YA (well, published in 10-14 YA, though my WIP YA is older), and as someone who likes to read funny books, I’ve never had much of a problem finding funny YA books to read. I do tend to agree, however, that the “serious” books vastly outnumber the “funny” ones.

    But, I’m an empirical kind of guy, so I decided to examine my assumption in more detail. In particular, I looked at a recent catalog for a major publisher, reading through the catalog copy of the twenty-four (24) YA novels and attempting to distill each book down to its essence.

    This is what I found:

    A book on paralysis
    A book on death of a parent, alcoholism, and unwanted pregnancy.
    A book on death of a parent through cancer
    A book on alcoholism
    A book on armed assault with a deadly weapon
    A book on death of both parents in a car crash
    A book on death of both parents in a car crash and an unwanted pregnancy
    A book whose catalog copy is vague, but appears to involve at least armed robbery and child abandonment
    An historical book on suicide
    A contemporary book on suicide
    A book on death of a parent and economic hardship
    A book on censorship. And sex.
    A book on death by accidental shooting (or general stupidity)
    A book on child abandonment, alcoholism, and an accident of indeterminate nature (resulting in, possibly, death)
    A book on divorce
    A book on death of a parent, economic hardship, robbery, and risking death.
    Two books on (1960s) sex, drugs, and rock & roll (and therefore, at least metaphorically, death)

    Of these, only one (1) appears to include any modicum of humor at all. (How do I know this? Because the catalog copy said it was “hilarious.”).

    For the record, of the remaining books, one was high fantasy, two appear to be (profoundly serious) love stories, one was a manufactured book, and for two, the catalog copy was so vague I couldn’t tell what they were actually about.

    Now, in one sense, I’m being unfair. I have, after all, grossly simplified “what the book is about” based on catalog copy - I could similarly characterize Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo as “a book on science and student court and racial perceptions,” which sounds like a real snoozer, rather than “a romantic science comedy courtroom drama about three friends who take part in their school science fair and end up in student court because of it.”

    Further, IMO, a funny book should deal with serious themes and should have all the characteristics of a serious book. A strong beginning, rising action, characters who change and grow, etc. As Lisa Yee put it in her interview on Three Silly Chicks, “[t]he best way to write a funny book is to write an unfunny book first. By that I mean, the story has to hold up without the humor. There needs to be emotion and pathos in it…To test this, take out your best jokes or funniest parts. Does the story still hold up?”

    Now, it's also entirely possible that, some of these apparently serious books could have some humor in them, even if they are not funny books with serious themes (And, yeah, only one sample and an anecdote isn't data).


    But, I was still struck by the fact that, with this one publisher (at least in this one catalog), "funny" seems to be a dirty word.

    Tuesday, February 27, 2007

    More Party Blogging...

    The party, as I said below, was great fun -- but I was so busy I didn't get a chance to take any pictures during the actual event. Fortunately, Jo Whittemore always carries her digital camera...There's more party blogging by Don Tate, Alison Dellenbaugh, and BookMoot.

    Glad y'all had a good time!

    Cynthia has her post about the Tantalize launch party here.

    Saturday, February 24, 2007

    Tantalizing Launch Party

    Last night, Cyn and I hosted the launch party for Tantalize. We ended up having around eighty friends, colleagues, teachers, librarians, and significant others. From what I could tell, it was a complete success :-).

    We did a Tantalize book giveaway, courtesy of Candlewick and also gave away a Sanguini's gift basket, incluidng Italian food staples such as pesto and black pasta, and various items from the Sanguini's shops.

    Door prizes also included advance reader copies (ARCs) of 2007 Austin area authors' young adult (YA) novels: April Lurie's Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds; Brian Yanksy's Wonders of the World; Jo Whittemore's Onaj's Horn; and Helen Hemphill's Runaround.

    Catering was provided by Primizie and was absolutely fantastic. Items included smoked salmon; mini-calzones; various finger sandwiches; stuffed mushrooms; an Italian antipasto platter; fruit, cheese, and vegetable platters; and roasted tomatoes. Presentation was equally grand: on glass blocks and granite slabs, with a five foot tall flower arrangement from The Flower Studio.

    Thanks to Anne Bustard for providing the Italian cream cake (see photo); Michael for the chain saw; Anna and Eric for staffing; and everyone else who helped out.

    Thanks also to everyone who came and thanks also to everyone who brought host/hostess gifts (I've lost track of who brought what, but Grazie!).

    Thursday, February 22, 2007

    Back Home

    It's been fun guest-hosting Cyn's blog while she dealt with the Blogger-Google difficulties. By now, most folks know she's back at Cynsations with a Live Journal mirror as well. Today she's got an interview with Gene Brenek, who did the Sanguini's logo for Cyn's new novel. (For those who haven't yet read Tantalize, Sanguini's is the fictional vampire-themed restaurant that features prominently in the novel.). You can buy various Sanguini's merchandise at Cafe Press and Printfection.

    Cyn's web designer, the ever-patient and industrious Lisa Firke, has recently debuted new web sites for authors Brian Yanksy and for Debbi Michiko Florence. Be sure to check them out!

    Also, for those interested in children's poetry, Sylvia Vardell has a great blog on just that subject. Today, she blogs about the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award.

    Sunday, February 18, 2007

    Cynsations Launches Mirror Site at LiveJournal

    Author Cynthia Leitich Smith has launched a mirror to her successful Cynsations blog at LiveJournal. Now, readers will have the option of reading the blog either at Blogger or LiveJournal.

    Cyn says: "This way my LJ subscribers won't be at the mercy of the syndication, which has proven only semi-reliable."

    Please help spread the word in the LJ community that the Cynsations mirror is now available to them directly. Thank you!

    Saturday, February 17, 2007

    Cynsational Return

    Great news! After much discussion/pleading with Blogger, Cyn's blogs have been upgraded. You can find her happily reunited with Cynsations and Spookycyn. Thanks to everyone who supported her guest blogging here during her tech woes as she was working to launch Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). Most appreciated!

    Thursday, February 15, 2007

    Author Interview: Brenda Ferber on Julia's Kitchen

    by Cynthia Leitich Smith

    Brenda A. Ferber on Brenda A. Ferber: "I grew up in a happy home in Highland Park, Illinois, the third of four children. I attended the University of Michigan and created my own honors major called, 'Creative Writing for Mass Media.' It was basically a combination of creative writing, film/video, and communications classes. Lots of fun! For my honors thesis, I wrote a screenplay, which is currently sitting in the back of my file cabinet, exactly where it belongs.

    "After graduation, I moved to Chicago with Alan, my college sweetheart. I worked for Leo Burnett advertising agency, got married, and had three kids in 19 months. (Yes, we have twins.) Suddenly I was a stay-at-home mom, living in the suburbs, and driving a mini-van. It was time to reassess life.

    "I had always dreamed of becoming an author but never saw it as a practical career. Now I figured I had to give it a shot. I wasn't making any money anyway, so what did it hurt? I took a class through the Institute of Children's Literature, devoured everything in the children's department of our library, and started to write. A few years later I sold two stories to Ladybug. Then, amazingly, I sold my first novel to FSG!"

    What about the writing life first called to you?

    When I was ten years old, my aunt gave me a diary for Hannukah, and I've been journaling ever since. For me, writing equals thinking. I don't really understand something until I've written about it. Not only did writing in a diary help me tackle the ups and downs of life, but it also helped me discover my writing voice. Journaling and reading as much as possible (Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Constance Greene were childhood favorites) added up to a natural desire to become an author.

    I wasn't one of those kids who wrote stories all the time, but I thought in story-mode, and I still do.

    You know that inner voice you have? Well, mine is a story-telling voice. For example, right now I'm thinking, She tried to answer the interview questions while her ten-year-old son buzzed about the room and asked, "What's for dinner, Mom?" I thought everyone's inner voice worked like this until one day when I mentioned it to my husband, and he informed me otherwise. Who would have guessed?

    What made you decide to write for young readers?

    I'm much too hopeful and optimistic to write for adults. And I love examining the growing-up years. I find it fascinating.

    Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?

    In 2003, I attended the SCBWI Mid-Year Conference in NY. One of the editors I heard speak there was Beverly Reingold, from Farrar Straus & Giroux. At that time, I was in the middle of my first draft of Julia's Kitchen, and Beverly struck me as the right editor for that manuscript. I can't explain exactly why. It was just a gut feeling.

    I went home and read several books Beverly had edited, and I became even more convinced that she should be my editor. Of course, I couldn't send her a half-finished first draft, so I sent her a picture book manuscript instead. Soon after, I received a lovely rejection letter from her. I sent her another picture book manuscript, and another, and another. Each time, she sent a rejection requesting to see more of my work.

    Finally, she asked me if I could possibly write something longer than a picture book, and I told her about Julia's Kitchen. She sent me a handwritten note saying to send it as soon as possible! I taped that note up to my computer and worked as fast as I could to finish the fourth draft.

    Meanwhile, I had entered the third draft of Julia's Kitchen in the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Competition and was waiting to hear the results. Right around the time I heard I won, I finished the fourth draft and submitted it to Beverly. She loved it, and offered me a contract! I did one revision for her, and then we went straight to line editing. Working with Beverly was an amazing learning experience. She was every bit the editor I thought she would be... and more!

    Congratulations on the publication of Julia's Kitchen (FSG, 2006)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

    In 2001, we were living in Austin, Texas, and there was a house fire in our neighborhood. A father and son died in the fire, and to make matters worse, the mother had died two years earlier in a car accident. There were two brothers who survived, and they went to live with relatives. I didn't know the family, only their house and their story. But every day as I would drive by the burned out house, I wondered about the two boys. I wondered how they were dealing with all this tragedy. I also wondered how I would have coped in their place.

    Then 9/11 happened, and it seemed everyone was walking around with a new level of fear.

    I asked the age-old question: Why does God let bad things happen? I figured I could try to answer that question in a book. I always loved novels about grief and loss (I just love a good cry!), and I noticed all the mainstream books about death had Christian characters. Where were the Jews? I wanted to write a universal story about a Jewish girl dealing with loss and trying to figure out why God lets bad things happen.

    What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

    I let the initial spark simmer in my head for about a year before I tried to write anything. During that time, we moved back to the Chicago area. I enrolled in ICL's novel writing class and formed a critique group. I spent about a year writing the first draft, and six months writing the next three. I worked with Beverly for about a year, and then a year later, the book was released. So it was a total of four and a half years from spark to publication.

    What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

    I am a naturally happy and optimistic person, so it was very hard for me to go as deep as I had to into Cara's grief. I wanted her to get over it! I wanted her to be happy!

    Thankfully, a member of my critique group is a social worker, and she kept pushing me to delve deeper inside Cara's feelings. Also, one of my dearest friends unfortunately lost her mother to cancer while I was writing the book, and we had many talks about the grieving process. Through my friend, I learned that grief isn't only painful, it's also beautiful, and absolutely necessary to heal.

    At one point while working with Beverly, it dawned on me that this was a terribly sad book. I wondered who would ever want to read such a heartbreaking tale, and I felt a bit panicked about that! But Beverly told me it has to be sad because it's a sad situation. I had to be true to my character and her story. And of course, there is a hopeful and uplifting ending. Even in the depths of grief, there are happy moments, if you look
    for them.

    Congratulations, too, on your Sydney Taylor Awards for Julia's Kitchen--best manuscript (2004) and best book for older readers (2007)! What did this recognition mean to you?

    Thank you! Winning the manuscript award in 2004 was amazing because it validated me as an author. It made me think I might actually get published. And it did help me find a publisher right away! But winning the gold medal in 2007 was even more exciting because there were so many outstanding Jewish books written this year. I was shocked and thrilled and flabbergasted and grateful that they picked mine as the very best. (I'm still trying to wrap my head around it!)

    What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

    Read, read, read. And don't stop revising until your manuscript is as good as the best stuff out there today. Only then should you try to find a publisher.

    What do you do when you're not writing?

    I love to spend time with my family and friends. We go to White Sox games, play Monopoly or Scrabble, see movies, go out to eat. I also love to read, scrapbook, bake, and (when nobody's watching) sing and dance to my iPod. My non-writing time also includes running errands, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, driving carpools, settling fights, and figuring out what's for dinner. If I ever win the Newbery or write a best-seller, I'm getting a personal chef!

    As a reader, what middle grade novels have you enjoyed lately and why?

    I loved Sold by Patricia McCormick (Hyperion, 2006). It was hauntingly powerful, deeply sad, yet filled with hope. Right now I'm in the middle of Alabama Moon by Watt Key (FSG, 2006), and I'm loving it! The main character, Moon, is one in a million. I find myself thinking about him when I'm not reading and itching to get back to his story.

    What can your fans look forward to next?

    Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire, will be published by FSG in spring 2009. It's a middle grade novel about friendship, sailing, and growing up at an overnight camp in northern Wisconsin.

    Cynsational Note

    This interview was conducted by guest blogger Cynthia Leitich Smith, who is on hiatus from Cynsations and Spookycyn.

    Absolute Write Interviews Barefoot Books Editor

    by Cynthia Leitich Smith

    Interview with Kimberly Duncan-Mooney by Jenna Glatzer from Absolute Write. Kimberly is the US editor of Barefoot Books, a small publisher established in 1993 with offices in Cambridge, Mass.; and England.

    "An Unsafe Bridge" by Peter T. Chattaway from Christianity Today. Author Katherine Paterson chimes in on the film version of "Bridge to Terabithia."

    Submit to the 11th Carnival of Children's Literature, sponsored by Big A, little a.

    Thanks to April Lurie at April's Blog, Jo Whittemore at Jo's Journal and Gwenda Bond at Shaken & Stirred for cheering the release of my gothic fantasy YA Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). Read Cynsations interviews with April and Jo.

    Wednesday, February 14, 2007

    Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith at the YA Authors Cafe

    The YA Authors Cafe offers its first interview at a new location. Cynthia Leitich Smith is the featured author, and she's talking about Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007).

    As a feature of the new cafe, readers are invited to write in with questions, and Cyn will make an effort to respond over the course of the week. Please surf by!

    Tantalizing Reviews

    by Cynthia Leitich Smith

    My newly released YA gothic fantasy novel, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), garners more praise!

    Booklist cheers: "If Joan Bauer took a crack at dark fantasy, the result would probably be something like this gothic-horror comedy..." and goes on "...the immersion in food culture--including an overhauled menu, as grisly as it is gourmet--successfully builds on the sensual aspects of vampire mythology."

    Kirkus Reviews raves: "Quincie must make a terrifying choice in a heart-pounding climax that will have teen readers weeping with both lust and sorrow."

    Thanks to my webmaster, the amazing Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys, for all of her work updating the site for the new release. Tantalize pages include the Reader's Guide and my research bibliographies--gothic fantasy and shapeshifters.

    Thanks also to bloggers Colleen Cook, Mitali Perkins, and Varian Johnson for their congratulations and pointing visitors to my guest blogging efforts.

    More News & Links

    Go bookmark the YA Authors Cafe. I'm honored to say that I'll be the first guest author, and I'll be talking about Tantalize. More soon!

    Don't miss this video interview with author David Lubar as he talks to Expanded Books about his forthcoming True Talents (StarScape, March 2007)(excerpt). Visit here, and read a related recommendation by Greg.

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007

    Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith is Now Available

    Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, Feb. 13, 2007) is now available. Here's a peek:

    Classified Ads: Restaurants
    Sanguini's: A Very Rare Restaurant is hiring a chef de cuisine. Dinners only. Apply in person between 2 and 4 P.M.

    Quincie Morris has never felt more alone. Her hybrid-werewolf first love threatens to embark on a rite of passage that will separate them forever. And just as she and her uncle are about to debut Austin's red hot vampire-themed restaurant, a brutal murder leaves them scrambling for a chef.

    Can Quincie transform the new hire into a culinary dark lord before opening night? Will Henry Johnson be able to wow the crowd in fake fangs, a cheap cape, and red contact lenses? Or is there more to this earnest fresh face than meets the eye?

    As human and preternatural forces clash, a deadly love triangle forms and the line between predator and prey begins to blur. Who’s playing whom? And how long can Quincie play along before she loses everything?

    Tantalize marks Cynthia Leitich Smith's delicious debut as an author of dark fantasy.

    Here are the official blurbs:

    "Looking for something to read that will make your TV jealous? Cynthia Leitich Smith's Tantalize has it all—hot vampires and wolf-boys, a super-cool heroine in cowboy boots, nail-biting suspense, romance, chills 'n' thrills, and Austin, Texas. What more could you want?"

    --Libba Bray, author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels

    "Full of unexpected, delicious delights that kept me guessing and turning the pages, Tantalize creates a froth of danger, suspense, and wit. This original book tantalizes the senses indeed, as it explores the border between attraction and disgust, and makes us question our perceptions. Who are you? Predator or prey?"

    --Annette Curtis Klause, author of Blood and Chocolate, The Silver Kiss, and Freaks! Alive on the Inside

    In breaking news, we have a new review:

    "An intoxicating romantic thriller... Quincie's longing for a physical relationship with her boy-wolf is as palpable as the taste of the food... Smith adds a light touch of humor to the soup, but the main course is a dark romance with all the gory trimmings."

    --The Horn Book Magazine

    Check out all the buzz!

    News, Links, and Thanks

    by Cynthia Leitich Smith

    Picture Books: Plan, Polish, and Publish by Dori Chaconas. Read interviews with Dori on On A Wintry Morning (Viking, 2000) and One Little Mouse (Viking, 2002) from my web site.

    Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast #6: Kelly Herold at Big A little a: an interview with one of my favorite bloggers.

    Thanks to the ever more bloggers who've announced today's release of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) and let the masses know I'm guest blogging here. Cheers to Book Moot, Laura Bowers; Julia Durango; Alex Flinn; Carrie Jones; Cynthia Lord; Liz Garton Scanlon; Laurie Stolarz; Three Silly Chicks, Lara Zeises.

    Of Tantalize, Laura raves: "Cynthia's writing is terrific–-just when I thought I had things figured out, she threw in some twists. I'm hoping there's a sequel in Cynthia's future because I'm betting readers will be thirsty for more!"

    Carrie chimes in: "Basically, vampire lore and modern day pizazz combine to make this a masterfully done thriller. It's pretty darn neat."

    Thanks also to Liz for highlighting yesterday's interview with Marian Hale.

    Monday, February 12, 2007

    Author Interview: Marian Hale

    By Cynthia Leitich Smith

    Marian Hale on Marian Hale: "I can't remember a time when I didn't love books, but it wasn't until I was twelve and instructed to write a short story for my sixth grade English class that I first became aware that I loved writing, too. However, other than the occasional attempt at poetry over the years, I never pursued it. I suppose a lack of confidence had a lot to do with it. The path to becoming a successful author seemed nebulous and unachievable.

    "I married the love of my life right out of business college, and some years later, I went into custom home design. Designing was a wonderfully creative outlet for me at the time. I enjoyed manipulating space to suit each client and the drafting of blueprints, but I especially loved that I could do most all of it at home with my three children close by.

    "Years later I finally decided to give writing a real try. I wrote short stories for children and adults and eventually entered them in contests. When my efforts began to place and win prizes, I moved on to my first mid-grade novel, a failure on a professional level, but a huge success in exposing my strengths and weaknesses. It also reinforced my love for children's literature--historical fiction in particular--and I've never looked back."

    What about the writing life first called to you?

    I'm not so sure I was called to writing. I probably thought so during those early attempts, but it didn't take long to realize that the choice was never mine to make. It's just who I am, like being born with brown hair or blue eyes. Now I can't imagine not writing.

    What made you decide to write for young readers?

    It was just fun! I especially loved historical fiction, the way it allowed me to step back in time and experience intriguing eras and events as though I were there, seeing it all through the eyes of a teen or preteen. But I suppose what appealed to me most about writing for young readers was the opportunity to tell stories that would help my own children and grandchildren form a more intimate bond with the past, to ask the questions that would help them recognize the eternal connection we all have with older generations all over the world.

    Congratulations on the publication of Dark Water Rising (Henry Holt, 2006)! What was your initial inspiration for this story?

    Thank you! I first considered this project some years ago when my husband came home from work with a tattered book found in an old abandoned house about to be torn down. It was a full account of the 1900 Galveston Storm, written soon after it happened.

    I’d read many articles over the years about the devastating Texas hurricane that took more than 8,000 lives, but never one written while wounds were still tender, while wind and floodwaters still haunted dreams. I wanted to read more, to search out the multitude of hundred-year-old accounts and photographs, all of which were so vivid with intimate detail, so achingly real and painful that I felt as though I’d experienced this turn-of-the-century city and disastrous storm myself.

    It was this window to the past that brought me to write Dark Water Rising (Henry Holt, 2006), and in so doing, I wanted to honor the overwhelming loss and Herculean efforts to rebuild the great city of Galveston. I was able to incorporate hundreds of documented details into my story and was very pleased when Reka Simonsen, my editor at Henry Holt, encouraged me to include some spell-binding photos of the aftermath in an author’s note.

    What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

    The inspiration for Dark Water Rising (Henry Holt, 2006) came in 2003, almost a full year before I could even think of starting a new project. When I could finally clear my desk, I spent the next six months researching and cataloging the details I wanted to use. I walked Galveston's streets, studied the nineteenth century architecture, visited the Rosenberg Library to read transcripts of oral interviews, toured homes that survived the great storm, sought out where the two-story ridge of debris left by wind driven water had once encircled the city, and walked along the seawall where Saint Mary's Orphanage had once stood, envisioning the two dormitories that had housed ten Sisters and more than ninety children who perished that day. It was a poignant and inspiring journey. I then spent the following six months trying to do
    justice to all those who had endured the deadliest storm to ever hit our country.

    What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

    One of the most difficult challenges was choosing the best location in the city for my characters to experience the storm. I needed an actual home and surviving family, one that would allow me to show the devastation as fully as possible. I finally realized that I'd have to map the entire city, block by block, and key it to names and personal accounts before I could make that decision. The map also helped me locate major businesses, schools and churches, and gave me the confidence to write as though I'd walked through those 1900 neighborhoods and business districts myself.

    Even more challenging was the emotional toll this story took on my day to day life. I don't believe anyone could read the many accounts of individual loss from this storm and not experience an intense emotional response. I certainly couldn't, but I couldn't allow myself to take the easy path of skipping lightly through the horrific aftermath either, just to ease my own discomfort. I needed to stay true to even the smallest details, though it meant living with the grisly effects of this storm for a full year.

    From the onset of this project, hundred year old photos and heartrending personal accounts haunted me every day, and they were the last thing in my thoughts before falling asleep each night. These were real people, caught up in a real disaster, something that could still happen to any one of us today, and more than anything I wanted to stay true to their stories.

    I'm likewise a fan of your debut novel, The Truth About Sparrows (Henry Holt, 2005). Could you tell us a bit about this book?

    Thank you; that's always so nice to hear. The Truth about Sparrows (Henry Holt, 2004) was my first historical fiction and a story very close to my heart. It follows Sadie, a twelve-year-old girl who loses her Missouri home during the Great Depression and is forced to start all over in a one-room tarpapered house on the Texas coast.

    Although the characters are fictional, most of the events were taken from my parents' and grandparents' experiences, even the scene where Sadie has no choice but to help with the birth of her baby sister. It was a joy to recreate this struggling 1933 fishing and shrimping community for young readers, and I was especially grateful for the opportunity to include the character of "Daddy," modeled after my own grandfather who had polio before he was a year old and never walked.

    What do you hope readers take away from the story?

    I suppose I've had the same hope for both books. I'd like to think my readers will come away with a deeper appreciation for what so many families, even their own, have endured and overcome, and perhaps be inspired to face their own adversities with that same kind of courage and determination to succeed.

    What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

    One turning point for me was learning to trust my own instincts and allow myself to become each character. This was tremendously helpful in letting readers in on my character's thoughts so they could share in the emotion, understand the cause, and care about the outcome. I've always tried to let each part of my story evolve naturally to a believable conclusion, following when it insisted on wandering paths I’d never expected or drew me to characters I'd never planned, even when doing so could change the ending I'd envisioned. This seat-of-the-pants writing may not work for everyone, but some of my most surprising and gratifying scenes/characters were written this way.

    I suppose the best advice I could give to any new writer, besides the important "read, read, read," is to love what you're doing. Love the characters, the words and the images they evoke, and yes, even the revisions. Look at each revision as another chance to bring more clarity, to make some part of your story touch your reader more deeply and hopefully linger long after your book is back on the shelf.

    What do you do when you're not writing?

    I'm still doing an occasional home design and my family keeps me very busy since my daughter and her preschool children are with us now, but I try to always make time for the simple joys. When I can, which isn't nearly often enough, my husband and I like to pull our travel trailer to a river or lake to fish and watch the sun go down. We take a few good books and CDs; grill fish, veggies, and stuffed jalapenos; and open a nice bottle of wine. My grandchildren are finally big enough to go with us occasionally, so we'll probably need a larger travel trailer before long!

    What can your fans look forward to next?

    My next book, untitled at this time, is another historical fiction set in 1918 Canton, Texas, and again, partially derived from old family stories.

    It begins with the dreams of sixteen-year-old Mercy Kaplan, a sharecropper's daughter, who has never wanted to be anything at all like her mother. Mercy longs to be free, far from the threat of being saddled with kids, dirty laundry, and failing crops the rest of her life. When the deadly 1918 flu epidemic sweeps through Canton, she gets what she wants in a way she never imagined and soon finds herself employed by the newly widowed Cora Wilder. But there's something secretive and downright strange about the woman. And then there's Daniel Wilder, her eighteen-year-old stepson, with his green eyes and fierce determination to protect his fatherless siblings, just the sort who could sweep a foolish girl off her feet and into a dull and wearisome life like her mother's if she isn't watchful. But Mercy is watchful, and observant enough to uncover the clues to Cora Wilder's odd behavior, which inches her ever closer to exposing a twenty-year-old murder.

    More on Dark Water Rising

    "A master of her craft...this is historical fiction at its best." --Kirkus, starred review

    "...this fine example of historical fiction has something for almost everyone." --Booklist, starred review

    "Fact and fiction are blended effortlessly together in an exciting read that leaves readers with a sense of hope." --School Library Journal

    More on The Truth About Sparrows

    Nominated for six state awards and selected for the following awards and honors:

    Editor's Choice for 2004 by Booklist Magazine;

    Top Ten First Novels by Booklist Magazine;

    2004 Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers by VOYA (Voices of Youth Advocates);

    Lasting Connections of 2004 by Book Links Magazine;

    Children's Books 2004: One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing, by the New York Public Library;

    Teachers' Choice for 2005 in the Advanced category by the International Reading Association;

    The Best Children's Books of the Year 2005 edition, selected by the Children's Book Committee at Bank Street College of Education;

    2005 Notable Books for a Global Society list by the NBGS committee of the Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association;

    "Worthy of Special Note" books for The 2005 Virginia Jefferson Cup Award (for historical fiction and nonfiction);

    The Editor's Choice - Best book of the Month by Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Review.

    "...a beautifully realized work, memorable for its Gulf Coast setting and the luminous voice of Sadie Wynn." --Kirkus Reviews

    "...triumphant and memorable." --The Horn Book

    “Sparrows is a breath of fresh air even when it brings tears to your eyes.” --USA Today

    Cynsational Note

    This interview was conducted by guest blogger Cynthia Leitich Smith, who is on hiatus from Cynsations and Spookycyn.
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